The Green Knight
FSU’s John M. Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection is vast and covers myriad topics. While most are books intended for children, or books containing poetry, or both, in many cases the texts deviate from the collection’s title altogether.
Such is the case with The Green Knight: A Vision. In a catalog search for children’s books about knights, I stumbled upon a work that, with a little research, unraveled into a fascinating story about powerful men meeting in the woods in secret. The book is tan with a white spine and a gold medallion on the front cover depicting two knights astride their horses in the middle of a joust.
The Naked Man
The first sign that the text might not be intended for children was this strange photograph, labeled “NEOTIOS.”
It is a naked man, from a distance. Though the photograph is pasted into a position clearly made for it – the name of the photograph and artist are printed in the space below the paste-in spot – it is a strange sight opposite the elaborate title page, with its wood-block border and inclusion of green ink.
It is on this frontispiece that The Green Knight’s origin is identified: “PRIVATELY PRINTED FOR THE BOHEMIAN CLUB BY SOME OF ITS MEMBERS / SAN FRANCISCO: MCMXI.” The border incorporates the primary values of the Bohemian ideal in the four great arts: Music, Literature, Painting, and Sculpture. Nature and Bohemia are at the top, and Care, the personified troubles and worries of the world, is at the bottom and depicted as a skull. (The Bohemian Club famously burns Care in effigy at a secret ceremony during their time at the Bohemian Grove.)
The Bohemian Club is a private club (still active) founded in 1872 in San Francisco. The club began in order to gather together creatives in a sort of “salon” setting, but eventually included influential businessmen and politicians who considered themselves art aficionados. It is perhaps more accurate to say that they were aficionados in so far as they had the resources and leisure to enjoy and own art at a level beyond that of the everyman. The club’s motto is “Weaving spiders come not here,” meant to indicate that the wheeling and dealing of business should be left outside the walls of the club, where the conversation should turn to loftier things like art, music, and literature. However, it is undeniably a community of movers and shakers, and membership rosters read like a who’s-who of the era.
“Oscar Wilde, upon visiting the club in 1882, is reported to have said “I never saw so many well-dressed, well-fed, business-looking Bohemians in my life.” (Wikipedia)
Each summer, the Bohemian Club gathers in a second location outside of the city, among the redwoods of Monte Rio, California in what came to be called The Bohemian Grove. Here, global leaders purportedly “rough it” in the woods, but from accounts, it seems that the modern concept of “glamping” (glamorous camping) is a more appropriate description.
During the final weekend of a three-week stay in the Bohemian Grove, an elaborate play is performed: the Grove Play. It is written and staged entirely by club members. The Green Knight: A Vision is one of these plays, performed only once in the forest of the Bohemian Grove and recorded in this book that was meant only for the eyes of its members. The picture of the naked man is a character in the play, Neotios, whose proposed costume is depicted in the book.
Grove Plays always incorporate a musical component, and The Green Knight includes the composed music, which is primarily instrumental and meant to break up the sections of speech. There are a few chanted portions, highlighting the ritualesque nature of the performance.
The book includes an introduction by the “sire” (author) Porter Garnett, the play text, costume designs, music, and a fold-out map of the natural stage: a hillside faced by log benches for the spectators. It is this hillside that is depicted in the photograph of Neotios. The Bohemian Grove performances aspired to a level of artistic excellence that was unsurpassed outside of the private gatherings. Porter Garnett argued that “a certain number of the audience – by reason of their possession or their apprehension of it – feel that they are participants in a rite, not spectators at an entertainment” (The Bohemian Jinks ix).
Plays performed by Bohemian Grove members were referred to as “jinks,” and other copies of “Summer Jinks” exist, even here at FSU. The Allen Music Library holds a copy of “The Atonement of Pan: A Music Drama” from 1912, and Special Collections has Truth: A Grove Play from 1926 in its vault.
For further reading on the Bohemian Grove, this Vanity Fair article is a fascinating introduction.
Garnett, Porter. The Bohemian Jinks : A Treatise. San Francisco : Bohemian Club, 1908., 1908.
Garnett, Porter and Edward Griffith Stricklen. The Green Knight : A Vision. San Francisco, Priv. print. for the Bohemian club, by some of its members, 1911.
Hadley, Henry and Joseph D. Redding. The Atonement of Pan : A Music Drama. [San Francisco, Calif. : Bohemian Club], 1912.
Sterling, George and Domenico Brescia. Truth : A Grove Play. San Francisco : Bohemian Club, 1926.